Nutritional yeast (also referred to as “nooch”) is one of the main ingredients in vegan pantries, not only because it’s a great source of protein and vitamin B12, but it’s also a great cheese substitute. You can use it to add a cheesy texture and nutty, cheesy flavor to some dishes.
Even though I have nutritional yeast in my pantry, I don’t give it much use, other than the time where I need to add some extra nutrients and flavor to my boring salads.
However, if you’re someone that no longer eats cheese but you need a replacement, you should definitely have nutritional yeast in your pantry. But since you’re here, it’s likely that you don’t have any nutritional yeast around, or maybe you just don’t like something about it but still want a replacement that you can use in a recipe.
Well, the good news is that I know about a few nutritional yeast substitutes that you can use, and if you have a grocery list that is similar to mine, you might have a few of those substitutes lying around.
What is Nutritional Yeast And What Does It Do In Recipes?
Nutritional yeast comes from a species of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is also the same species that is used to produce brewer’s yeast which is typically used in the production of beer.
Even though people might use the terms interchangeably, it’s important to point out that nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are not the same thing. You can produce nutritional yeast from a variety of sources, including blackstrap molasses, sugar beets, or even whey – though that’s not usually the case.
Nutritional yeast is quite similar to the yeast that people use in baking, but because it undergoes a heating and drying process that makes it inactive. This means that the yeast cells are no longer active, so they cannot produce any of the effects like live yeast, such as fermentation.
People often use nutritional yeast to boost their food with nutritional content, since it’s a great source of protein, B vitamins, and trace minerals. The quantity depends on whether you have the fortified variety.
Besides boosting the nutritional content of dishes, nutritional yeast can make the texture of some dishes creamier, and it can also add tasty umami flavor to a variety of dishes and is also a great cheese replacement. I personally use it to add a more deep flavor to soups, salads, pastas, potatoes, and sometimes popcorn.
What Counts as a Nutritional Yeast Substitute?
If you don’t generally buy nutritional yeast, or are unable to find it in a store near you, there are a few substitutes you can use to replicate its use. Some of these ingredients are some I usually have, while others are less common, even in more diverse pantries, but they’re useful when you don’t have nutritional yeast around.
You might have never heard about brewer’s yeast, but I bet you’ve probably tasted it before. It’s made from the same one-celled fungus (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that is used to make nutritional yeast, so it’s no wonder it ended up on this article.
Brewer’s yeast is primarily used in the production of beer and shouldn’t be confused with baker’s yeast, nutritional yeast, or torula yeast.
Unlike brewer’s yeast, those ingredients are low in chromium, which is an essential trace mineral that helps the body maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Brewer’s yeast is also a great source of protein and B-complex vitamins, but it has a bitter flavor, so using it for the purpose of adding flavor is probably not a good idea, but it can help you add a creamy texture to dishes.
Yeast extract has the cell content of yeast but doesn’t have the cell walls; and it’s typically used as a food additive or as a nutrient source for bacterial culture media.
Yeast extract contains glutamic acid (or free glutamates), the amino acid that produces the umami flavor that is common in cheese, meat, mushrooms, and even nutritional yeast.
I’ve lived in the UK, so I’m not sure if you’re familiar with I’m about to say, but products like Marmite and Vegemite are made with yeast extract (or more specifically, yeast autolysates). Not all people like them because unlike most spreads, they have a strong salty flavor, so it’s usually a “hate it or love it” reaction.
You can use yeast extract to flavor your food by spreading it on bread, or you can use it to thicken sauces or soups. If you’re unable to find nutritional’s yeast, you can always head to the supermarket and see if they have some Marmite or Vegemite in stock.
Miso is a fermented ingredient, which means it also contains glutamic acid; the amino acid that produces the umami flavor you can find in cheese, nutritional yeast, and other savory foods.
The Japanese use miso to form the base of their staple dish, miso soup. It’s a paste, which is similar in texture to peanut butter, and it’s usually produced from a cultured mixture of soybeans, a grain (either rice or barley), salt, and koji mold, which is a fungus that is common in Japan.
There are several varieties of miso, in fact, there are over 1,000 types of miso with different textures, flavors, and colors, so the ingredients used in its production can vary a lot.
While you can use miso to change the structure of a meal (or confer it with texture), you can certainly use it to give it more depth in terms of flavor. Some types of miso are light and mildly sweet while others have a strong umami flavor like nutritional yeast, so depending on the variety you have, you need to apply it carefully.
While I don’t recommend adding miso paste to soups or salads, I believe it’s an impressive addition to marinades and desserts.
Frankly, I have met no one who doesn’t love mushrooms, and if you still haven’t used them as a substitute for nutritional yeast, please try them out.
Mushrooms – especially dried shitake mushrooms – are rich in umami, which is quite obvious when you taste them because they are very meat-like.
It turns out that the darker the mushrooms, the more umami you have. Also, dried mushrooms have more umami than fresh mushrooms, and cooked mushrooms have more umami than raw mushrooms.
Here are the four mushrooms that are the richest in umami:
- oyster mushrooms
They will not give you the parmesan-like flavor that nutritional yeast is known for, but they still have a very deep flavor that resembles savory meat. To use mushrooms as you would nutritional yeast, you have to dry them out and ground them into powder before use.
Tofu is a common ingredient in most vegans fridge, and if you’re someone that’s looking for a nutritional yeast substitute, then it’s likely that you’re vegan.
So if you have some tofu in your fridge, you can use it to replace the texture-creating properties of nutritional yeast – particularly if you want to have vegan cheese.
Tofu has a sponginess that resembles soft cheese, and you can also blend it or mash it with a dash of lemon juice and use it as a replacement for cottage cheese or ricotta in dips, sauces, smoothies, pies, and pasta dishes.
Sliced smoked tofu can also mimic mozzarella or provolone on sandwiches or on crackers. Plus, you can also add cubes of extra firm tofu in salads, and you’ll have something equivalent to cheese in terms of texture.
Like nutritional yeast, chickpea flour is packed with protein and B-complex vitamins, and while it doesn’t give you the deep nutty and cheese flavor you’re probably seeking, it has an identical texture that you can sprinkle on popcorn or baked potatoes.
I’ve read that you can spread chickpea flour on a sheet pan and put it in the oven at 300 degrees Fahreneit to bring out its hidden nutty flavor, but I’m not sure if that works.
What I found out from using chickpea flour is that you can make an amazing omelette with it. Add vegan cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper and you can make an omelette that doesn’t seem vegan to be honest.
Cashews and Macadamia Nuts
Cashews and macadamia nuts are often used as a base for many vegan cheeses, including vegan cheese dips.
If you half blend any of these nuts, you get a paste with a texture akin to cottage cheese, but if you fully blend them, you get a smooth cheese sauce or queso to dip your tortilla chips.
Therefore, you don’t really need nutritional yeast, particularly if you’re like me and just want some “cheese” in your salad — half-blend some cashews and you’re good to go.
Spices and Herbs
The thing with spices and herbs is that you can’t exactly add structure to a dish, but you can get the flavor of nutritional yeast without the yeast.
The taste will not be the exact same, but you have a few different powders that you can use to try to replicate the flavor.
Oregano and Basil
Both oregano and basil are two herbs that are a brilliant match for a variety of cheeses, and because some cheeses have a neutral flavor, you can taste their influence on the flavor. This can make you think that it’s just how the cheese tastes when it’s actually the herbs doing the work.
Even though these herbs aren’t actual substitutes for nutritional yeast in recipes (since they have no yeast), they’re something that you can use to replicate the flavor of more “neutral” cheeses.
Some vegan cheese recipes have a powerful flavor, which is thanks to the paprika.
Paprika itself doesn’t have a cheesy flavor, but it’s super savory and flavorful, and while I wouldn’t dare say it’s the optimal replacement for nutritional yeast, it’s something you can use to give your food that extra punch.
Can you Make Homemade Nutritional Yeast?
If you don’t have nutritional yeast, or cannot find it in stores, you can always make it at home.
I’m not an expert, but I found a recipe that will help you make homemade nutritional yeast with only three ingredients: chickpeas, active dry yeast, fermented soybean (or miso paste).
This recipe (which you can watch by playing the video above) is one of a kind, and Jana (the author), is really crafty because she created a staple that many vegans appreciate.
Not having nutritional yeast in your pantry doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
There are substitutes you can use in order to replicate the qualities of nutritional yeast in common recipes, whether you wish to thicken your soup, or want to add a nutty flavor to your salad, there are several ingredients that can help you meet those needs.
That being said — It’s very difficult to find the perfect substitute (I don’t think there is a perfect one), but there are several you can use to replicate the flavor and texture, even if it’s not exactly the same.
If you have any substitutes that I might have missed and feel like they’re worth adding to this article, feel free to leave a comment below.